Category Archives: Writing

Grow a Story

When stories are starting out, they’re tender and undeveloped, susceptible to any hint of criticism and any suggestion about the path they should travel. An untold story needs to be protected by its author, kept out of the light until it’s strong enough to survive on its own.

During this period, no one has the right to get between an author and their story, to disturb the almost sacred process by which the details of plot and character come into being. Anything can kill a story at this point, and to kill a story before it’s even had a chance is murder. Not only that, but to suck the juice of life from a new story damages the confidence of the author. Who knows how many pages die when one new idea has lost its magic in the eyes of its creator.

I still don’t believe writing can be taught, despite taking numerous writing classes. These help a little, but the meat of writing is learned from reading. Anyway, take a storytelling class. Instruct the students to tell you their story before they write it out, to plan out their plot structure like an architect, to release an unformed blob of ideas dripping with creativity into the hands of an editor. This isn’t the way to write something worth reading.

Good stories drag their authors along as they’re written. They’re not preplanned. (At least, I could never stick to a structure while writing. Plans are for ignoring when characters disagree.) Stories should be hidden and protected like a sprout in a greenhouse, never revealed until they’re fully fleshed out with a strong skeleton and leaves and maybe some flower buds. Only after a full first draft has been written is your story maybe, maybe, ready to see the world.

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‘Course, they say never to show anyone your first draft, because the deserved criticism will crush your soul. I ignored that advice. Had the criticism come any earlier in its development, my story likely never would have seen the light of day. But after a first draft? You can take it.

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” -Stephen King

Get writing!

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Here Comes November

There are only a few days each year when Autumn’s leaves are burning up and still on the trees. Summer is hanging on, but in a month or two, it’s going to be cold and grey and gloomy.

That’s novel weather.

Fellow NaNoWriMo adventurers, whip out your pens (if you’re really actually going to try writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days by hand), keyboards, and thinking caps. It’s time to imagine the possibilities! Not just that, but live them through the characters you bring into existence and tag along with as they live out their lives on your page.

Write your novel.

2 Silly Reasons People Don’t Like Writing

I never understood why so many people say they don’t like writing. I grew up writing pages-long letters to my many pen-pals, short stories, poems, long stories, and loving it. I have a need to write. Writing is fun—you get to make up your very own worlds… or not, if you don’t want to. You can tell yourself stories about what’s already happened. Writing can help you make sense of your experience. It can help you remember and become aware of the ideas in your own head. Why don’t more people like writing?

     1) They’ve been taught that writing is drudgery.
If you grow up being forced to write, chances are you’ll learn to hate it pretty quickly. Take the freedom and creativity away, and you’re shackling a seagull on its maiden voyage. If you didn’t get a chance to explore writing (and reading for pleasure) on your own before being flooded with useless assignments, you really haven’t experienced what fun writing can be.

     2) They’re thinking about readers.
I’ve been developing this problem as I write more often in people’s company, allowing them to read what I’ve written. The solution: Acknowledge it and get over it. Forget the readers as you’re writing, and tell yourself a story. Imagine a campfire and wind in pine trees if that helps you. But don’t worry about readers. Just play.

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. ”
-Joss Whedon

Inspiration & Originality: An Interview

   You’re a writer. What, or who, inspires you most?

The one thing that never fails to pull me out of a writing rut is the magic of a favorite story. These stories have a life of their own—they pick me up and make me forget and make me care, and remind me why I tell stories. Books, movies, plays, even music can do it. And once all that greatness has seeped into my thoughts, it’s bound to come out in my writing.

   Shouldn’t you be worried about originality?

No. You’ve heard that all the great stories have already been told. Take Star Wars, the original Star Wars. That was far from original. George Lucas took a good helping of his storytelling from ancient mythology and The Hero’s journey. C. S. Lewis did that too. These authors were inspired by classics, and created new classics that really aren’t new.

Don’t worry about originality, worry about authenticity.”

The point is, if you’re a writer, you need something to aspire to. That’s inspiring. Stories to remind you why you love stories, that pick you up and blow you away and leave you changed. You’ll absorb elements from them, and I think that’s great. What more could you ask for than having the quality of your writing approach that of your heros?

Why You Should Write When There’s No Time

If you don’t write when you don’t have time for it, you won’t write when you do have time for it.” ― Katerina Stoykova Klemer

When I became busy with college, I didn’t like this quote. First of all, as a homeschooled high schooler I’d had plenty of time to write, and write I did. Poems, novels, far-fetched tales of adventure in Africa, and letters—so many letters. Take that, Katerina. I wrote even when I had time.

Then college started. I valued grades over words on the page. All of a sudden, college ended and a career began. I start to see that I’ll never have time to write, at least not in the foreseeable future. What’s a writer to do?

Write when there’s no time. Up to 15 minutes of creative free-writing a day, just to get words on the page and a blog post out. I’ve finally learned that practice makes better, no matter how much raw talent you do or don’t have. Through practice, you can better understand your craft and yourself. No practice, and you’re a seed without soil.

I’ve noticed something interesting about writing when there’s no time. Katerina’s right. After a busy weekday, it’s easier for me to write than on a free weekend. The pressure is a motivator. And, against all indications to the contrary, writers aren’t hermits. A big part of the job is spending time out in the world with other people, interacting with them, exchanging ideas, getting to know the readers.

Even when there’s no time, if you want to write, write. For five minutes. Maybe just ten words. If you love it like I do, this will be enough. It’ll remind you what writing’s like. And if you ever get the time to write more, you’ll be ready.

Inhibited

Dim fluorescent lights flicker over our half-empty classroom with pale windowless walls on all sides. It’s creative writing class, and students scribble all around me, writing impromptu stories. After the exercise, those that dare are invited to read their mini-tales aloud. I dare, take a breath, and plow ahead.

It’s a silly, crazy type of story about someone’s lost shirt, inspired by the stories I used to amuse my family with about themselves blown all out of proportion. Like most of my goofy stories, telling it right involves a bit of yelling. My classmates don’t know what to think. When I finish, there’s dead silence. To everyone’s relief we move on, and I’m left to consider my sin of uninhibited goofiness.

Over time, I learned to hide my freshman self under a protective shell. I became a chameleon, changing colors to match my surroundings, sometimes hoping someone would come up and talk to me, sometimes hoping I’d be left alone. And though I’ve learned a lot about writing through college, becoming a chameleon hurt my writing ability. Instead of taking joy in the act of writing itself I became preoccupied with what readers will think. A writer can’t be this way.

Good writers let go. They give up fear and inhibition and throw caution to the wind. They write their heart, be it goofy or weird or sweet or aching. They keep writing and worry about the audience later, if ever. This is how something meaningful is made.

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When I wrote my first NaNoWriMo novel, I lived the story through my characters. I laughed and cried with them, spoke their words, felt everything. My heart was in that story and it’s worth reading. However, my subsequent attempts at noveling are sad imitations of good stories. I was busy with college at the time and just “made stuff up,” never really getting in touch with my characters. This just doesn’t cut it—good writing is heartfelt.

Don’t be afraid to put your heart in your writing, and shine!

By Starlight

The first thing you notice is the emptiness. Notice the sound, the feel, even the taste of open air. You’re exposed, and you know it. Alert and listening, you look around at the rustling leaves and wait for your eyes to adjust. You look up and see stars, and start walking.

A crystal roof of pinpoints, featureless if you don’t see the patterns. Living alongside the fireflies.

It’s empty out there, full of possibilities. The stars are closer than the rustling leaves, closer than the blinking lights on a distant hill.

They can’t be that close. Not really . . . but they are. Lightyears apart, all you really know is that the reaching fingers of dead space haven’t caught you yet. You’re under a blanket of warmth, the summer air a thin veil between solid earth and empty sky.

The stars are yours. Made for you.

This is the only time that ever was or will be.